Fast Facts About Aruba—a.k.a. The Happy Island

The first time I visited Aruba was on a cruise. The ship docked and a bunch of unwitting tourists milled about for approximately four hours. My second visit was suspiciously similar.

This time, however, I decided to spend some hard-earned cash and really immerse myself in all things Aruba. I’ve been here less than 24 hours and here’s what I’ve gleaned:

There’s a Reason Why It’s Called “The Happy Island”

The CVB’s moniker lives up to its name—and then some. I’ve never been anywhere where locals love tourists as much as they do here. Granted, nearly 100 percent of the country’s revenue is tourism-centric, so it makes sense. But the people here are a genuinely, good-spirited lot. I’m guessing it’s hard to be restless when you have year-round perfect weather.

Our tour guide, taxi driver, concierge, and bartender were all born and raised on the island. And—shockingly!—none of ’em had ever been to the States. “Why would you want to leave paradise?” one of ’em told me with a toothy grin. “We have more sunny days than any other island in the Caribbean.”

I Can See Venezuela From My House.

At its absolutely closest point, Aruba is a mere ten miles from Venezuela. On a clear day, you can see the opposing coast. When I inquired if tourists ever do a day-trip to Venezuela, our tour guide burst out laughing. “You don’t ever want to go to Venezuela—for any reason,” he chided. “It’s falling apart politically and crime is rampant.” He then went on to proudly point out that Aruba is, by far, the safest island in all of the Caribbean with a miniscule crime rate.

The American Dollar is Mighty-Mighty.

While Aruba is a Dutch province, the American dollar is accepted virtually anywhere and everywhere. Knowing that I was going to be tipping voraciously, I took $50 in one dollar bills. That lasted approximately six hours. Service staff aren’t greedy, but if you tip them, they will bend over backwards to enhance your experience.

Multi-Linguality Rules!

Nearly all Arubans speak four languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamento. (Dutch and Papiamento are the official languages of Aruba.) The origin of Papiamento is rooted in lore. It’s an odd mix of Portuguese-African pidgin, the purported language for communication between slaves and slave traders. Throw in a smattering of Dutch and Spanish lingo, blend accordingly and Papiamento has its own vernacular. Schoolchildren often learn Dutch, English, and Papiamento—but are discouraged from using Papiamento outside of class.


Taxi permits are doled out by the governor—and it’s the hottest license on the island. With less than 400 permits granted, drivers who acquire one are set for life. Once you have said license in your possession, you can bequeath it to someone in your family after you retire. The only stipulation? You must be born and raised on the island to be eligible. (Our 64-year-old driver was passing his down to his nephew for a whopping $60,000—quite the boost to his retirement fund.)

Island Time Rules!

Arubans joke that if it doesn’t get done today, it will get done tomorrow. They’re not kidding. Their famed lighthouse, for instance, took over two decades to come to fruition after the S.S. California sank in 1891. Opening in 1916, the aptly named California Lighthouse drew inspiration from Courdouan, France’s oldest lighthouse. Similar to the Eiffel Tower, this silent watchman stands as a prominent landmark and remains the tallest structure in Aruba.

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a dozen times over the last couple days: “No worries, no hurries.” If you’re a strong Type A, your head may explode at the polite lackadaisicalness of the island.

Small, But Mighty

Aruba is tiny—a mere 70 square miles. (Well, 69.1, if we’re being technical.) It’s 20 miles long and 6 miles across at its widest point. As Europeans point out, you could fit Aruba into Ireland 471 times.

But—and this part threw me off a bit—Aruba is not necessarily the lush, tropical Caribbean paradise you’d expect. It’s extremely windy, dry, and arid. Cacti are in abundance, as is the occasional rattlesnake.

Drink Up, Buttercup

Aruba has their own water distilling plant on the island. Very mod. Yes, it’s safe to drink right out of the tap. You’re gonna need it after being on a raucous, dusty UTV tour all day.

You Can Flamingo Your Own Way

Flocks of domesticated pink flamingos can be found on De Palm Island and Renaissance Island … but you have to be pretty savvy about getting to both locales since both are exclusive properties. Mercifully, I stayed at the Renaissance which has boat shuttles to their private island. A word of warning, don’t pet the flamingos. Don’t even try. They don’t like it one bit. But, yes, they’ll gladly eat out of your hand.

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